Story and photo courtesy of Delaware Athletics
NEWARK, Del. - After two consecutive losses followed by a bye week, the No. 25 ranked University of Delaware needed a win in a big way.
And that's exactly what the Blue Hens got Saturday afternoon as they treated a Homecoming crowd to a solid offensive performance in a 47-24 Colonial Athletic Association football victory over Rhode Island at Delaware Stadium.
Senior quarterback Tim Donnelly, making his first start of the season due to an injury to starter Trent Hurley, hit on 19 of 27 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and All-American running back Andrew Pierce (at right) bounced back from a hamstring injury to rush for a season-high 141 yards and score three touchdowns to lead the way.
Delaware (5-2, 2-2 CAA), which had lost consecutive games of 34-14 to New Hampshire on Sept. 29 and 26-3 to Maine in the Hens' most recent outing on Oct. 6, piled up season-highs of 268 yards rushing and 471 total yards to win going away. The Hens surpassed the 40-point mark for the third time this season.
Rhode Island (0-7, 0-4 CAA), one of just seven winless teams in the nation at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level, lost for the ninth straight time since last season but did post a season-high 24 points after entering the game ranked last in the nation in scoring offense at 7.5 points per game. Quarterback Bob Bentsen completed 19 of 27 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns while Brandon Johnson-Farrell hauled in eight passes for 91 yards and two scores.
Delaware's defense, playing without All-American linebacker candidate Paul Worrilow who was out with a knee injury, allowed a season-low 271 total yards, including just 43 yards on the ground on 23 carries, and stopped the Rams on 9 of 12 third down attempts. The Rams scored twice in the final quarter, including a touchdown catch by Johnson-Farrell with just 37 seconds left, to keep the score respectable.
Delaware sophomore linebacker Patrick Callaway led the Blue Hen defense with a team-high nine tackles, including two for losses, and recovered a fumble that led to a late first half touchdown. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jeff Williams added six tackles, including two sacks and a first-quarter safety.
After Rhode Island scored on its first drive of the day to take a 7-0 lead just under three minutes into the game, the Hens responded with 33 unanswered points to take and cruise to their 19th win in their last 22 games at Delaware Stadium since 2009.
The Rams’ first quarter touchdown was only the second scored against Delaware in the first quarter this season.
“We might just be the most maligned 5-2 team in the country,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who raised his record on Homecoming to 17-3, including an 8-3 mark at Delaware. “We had a lot of guys who stepped up (due to injuries) and played well today. Homecoming is an important tradition to uphold and our 1972 national championship team was here getting honored today so we wanted to put in a good performance and play like champions for champions. I was disappointed with that first drive, but our kids settled down and we played some decent football after that. I was proud of the way Timmy (Donnelly) played today, he really played well and made some good decisions despite being a little rusty.”
Blue Hen junior kicker Sean Baner accounted for nine points on the day, converting a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, his 11th in 12 tries this season, and six extra points. He extended his consecutive PAT made streak to 54 to break the Delaware record of 53 set by All-American Jon Striefsky in 2007.
Senior wide receiver Nihja White hauled in seven passes for 68 yards and caught a pass for the 38th straight game, tying the Delaware record for consecutive games with a reception by former All-American Eddie Conti in 1996-98.
Donnelly, a former walk-on, started nine games under center a year ago before Hurley, a first-year transfer from Bowling Green, won the starting job this fall and led the Hens through the first six games before suffering a foot injury.
Donnelly rose to the occasion Saturday as he scored Delaware’s first touchdown of the day on a five-yard burst to give UD the lead for good at 10-7 and later fired a five-yard scoring toss to Pierce.
The touchdown pass to Pierce was set up when Callaway stripped the ball from Rhode Island running back Jordan Sebastian and recovered the fumble on the URI six-yard line. The Hens scored less than a minute later to take a 26-7 advantage into halftime.
“I have been waiting all year for this so it felt good to get out there and seize the opportunity,” said Donnelly. “A lot of guys stepped up today and it was great to see the offense get back on track.”
Pierce, who carried just twice for 10 yards vs. Maine due to a hamstring injury, made the most of the bye week and bounced back strong. The junior All-American carried 18 times for 147 yards and surpassed the 100-yark mark for the 18th time in his 33-game career. He reached the end zone three times, scoring from six yards out early in the second quarter, hauling in the five-yard scoring strike from Donnelly with just 39 seconds left in the first half, and rambling 14 yards for a score with 9:54 left to play.
The Hens also got touchdowns on a two-yard run by backup quarterback Trevor Sasek and on a 13-yard dash by Julian Laing with 3:57 left to play to up the Delaware lead to 47-17. Laing ran 10 times for 62 yards and tallied his first career touchdown.
Delaware also scored on the defensive side of the ball when Williams sacked Bentsen in the end zone just 10 seconds after Donnelly’s scoring run had given the Hens their first lead.
Delaware, which avenged a 38-34 loss at Rhode Island last season that likely kept them out of the NCAA Tournament, has now defeated Rhode Island five times in the last six meetings and improved to 13-3 all-time vs. the Rams at Delaware Stadium.
Delaware will look to keep the momentum going next Saturday when the Blue Hens travel to Norfolk, Va. for a CAA encounter with No. 7 ranked Old Dominion at noon.